Last night, driving home from work, hoping all the while not to be blown away by the wind and the rain and the thunder, I had an idea for a blog post. I thought it was a pretty good idea and so I set about planning it out in my head. Then I get home and, lo and behold – the power was out. My computer dead all hopes of blogging for the night perished. It was probably a good thing.
See, I had planned on showing various stages of my writing process, using a poem that I have not posted on here as the example. Tonight however, faced with a lack of wind and rain and thunder and lots of lovely electricity, the idea seemed much less appealing. Not that I have anything against showing stages of development in my poems, or that I mind letting cruddy, cliché-ridden drafts see the light of day. It is just that the particular poem that I had thought to share began to feel, for one thing not as complete and polished as I would like it to be, but for another much too personal, too close to home. Maybe I’ll be braver next month.
So, I thought to myself, “What are you going to blog about now?” And I answered myself, “I’ll just put up a really good poem by a really good poet. Yeah.” So I went to my fancy bookshelves and debated over the various collections represented there, and finally pulled Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan. His parents, German-speaking Jews, were killed in the Holocaust, after which he wrote one of the most haunting poems I have ever read – “Todesfuge” (“Deathfugue”). Celan’s poems are the kind that move you emotionally, even if you are unclear of what the words on the page actually mean or what the heck he’s talking about. Here is one of his short poems, from his 1967 collection “Atemwende” (“Breathturn”):
(I know you, you’re the one bent over low,
and I, the one pierced through, am in your need.
Where flames a word to witness for us both?
You — wholly real. I — wholly mad.)
But, even paging through Celan’s poems, reading and being touched by them, none of them seemed to say “I am the poem that will make you write today!” And so – perhaps because Celan was a Jew and often uses language found in the Bible, or perhaps because when I am reading his poems I am constantly being reminded of different Psalms – I put down Celan and picked up the Bible. Many Psalms presented themselves – the 42nd, the 96th, the 100th, but I remembered one that I love to go back to and read over and over. This Psalm is quite possibly my favourite, and has helped me through some rough times. And so, without further ado, I would like to present in full the 139th Psalm:
(To the Choirmaster. A Psalm of David.)
O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heave, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb,
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.
Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain!
Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
Whew – it doesn’t seem all that long when you read it, but it sure feels long to type it out… But what a powerful psalm this is! A psalm of awe and wonder at not only the glory and majesty of God, but at His willingness to know us and be near us; to love us and watch over us. I love how David moves from God searching out our thoughts to praising God for His thoughts; I love that he finds pleasure and contentment just in the contemplation of what God is thinking about. That is the peace that a close relationship with God can bring! And of course, the final two verses are such a challenge to believers. I know that, if every Christian would pray that prayer regularly (myself included) – Search me, God! Try my heart! Lead me in Your way, the way that you love! – we would find ourselves in a much closer relationship with God.
Well, I didn’t start this post intending to preach, but I hope I can be forgiven for that – I think I can say that I come by the tendency to preach honestly. Anyway, next post I think I’m going to stick with mostly pictures – those posts don’t take quite so long to write… 🙂